Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Gardening the Americas

Yesterday, with Columbus Day / Indigenous People's Day, I was pleased that most of my friends shared the truth: Christopher Columbus may have been a brave sailor, but he was a cruel, cruel man.

One of my friends shared this book excerpt from The Atlantic: 1491 , which I will come back to later in this post.

My futurist friend in Houston commented about health and society a few times over the years that I knew him. Particularly when we spoke of the health concerns of modern society, the obesity epidemic, he would mention that hunter-gatherer societies lived in excellent health, AND their provisioning did not take all day, every day to tend. According to him, they had quite a bit more leisure time than modern society provides.

I've begun reading an older version of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, and it says much the same thing. Quoting primary sources, who marveled at the healthy, muscular Indigenous Peoples of (primarily North) America.

Both the 1491 excerpt and Lies discuss how the Americas were not simple wilderness: they were gardened, and this reminded me of several different concepts.

One, is about my own garden:
I don't write about my yard / garden nearly as much as my blog description suggests. But I have shared articles about how damaging the invasive grasses, herbicides, fertilizers, sprinkler systems and polluting lawn mowers can be to the overall environment.

With my move to Alabama, and a return to the type of biome I grew up in, I decided to work on landscaping my yard. I'm doing a mix of gardening concepts:

  • predominantly a Cottage Garden, with some potager concepts applied.
  • keeping in mind permaculture concepts
  • and trying for a backyard wildlife habitat, particularly for bees, birds, and butterflies
  • native plants & xeriscaping
  • an emphasis on perennials
  • selectively including both native and non-native edibles. Currently mostly berries, herbs, and flowers, although I have put some thought into the perennial vegetables (Jerusalem Artichokes, asparagus...)
It's all a work-in-progress, far from perfect. Every once in a while I find an exotic plant (like Stargazer Lillies) that I just have to include anyway. I'm also having to work slowly on a budget. But I think if we all tried to do something more like this... each garden adapted to our own microclimates and personal tastes for colors and food, it would:
  1. help us keep moving (that darn exercise!)
  2. improve our diet
  3. increase food security for the region
  4. help reduce global climate through
    1. fewer greenhouse gasses from lawn mowers
    2. reduced heating costs from properly placed trees
    3. increased carbon absorption from the diverse non-lawn landscape
  5. etc.
Two, I'm reminded of Tara K. Harper's Wolfwalker Series

Because it's not just about high fantasy telepathy with a familiar. Often in the stories the plants of that alien world have purposes, uses. Some medicinal, others for defense, or human habitat.

This is not an uncommon meme in fantasy. Tolkien used it, with his Kingsfoil, and the herb-enriched Lembas-bread. Anne McCaffrey also uses this concept on Pern, in several places: numbweed, a plant that grows needles.

But with science fiction, that gets into a subject for another day: genetic engineering. Right now, I prefer to keep the focus on propagated plants, bred over generations. Many of the uses for the plants that come to us naturally, require observation and study to use well.

Much of the knowledge that would help me with this garden, is likely to be Traditional Knowledge of the peoples who lived here before. Much lost, and what remains is not meant for me.

I don't have answers yet, only questions, some knowledge of what I have tried, and what I have observed.